Fuhrman Denies Any Tampering : Simpson case: The detective undergoes a sometimes testy cross-examination by F. Lee Bailey. He denies meeting a woman who says he made racist comments.
Los Angeles Police Detective Mark Fuhrman squared off against one of the nation’s best-known defense lawyers Monday, with the detective denying he ever met a woman who says he made racist comments and dismissing the suggestion that he tampered with evidence in the murder investigation of O.J. Simpson.
Fuhrman, a 19-year department veteran, never raised his voice despite a sometimes testy cross-examination by F. Lee Bailey, a nationally renowned trial lawyer who has publicly proclaimed his eagerness to question the detective. He once even compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler.
On Monday, Bailey unveiled for the jury an argument that defense attorneys have advanced for months--that Fuhrman is a racist who may have planted evidence to implicate Simpson in the June 12 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.
Simpson has pleaded not guilty, and his legal team has waged a spirited defense of the former football star.
In his cross-examination, Bailey asked Fuhrman whether he had used a bloody glove to smear blood inside Simpson’s Ford Bronco, an accusation that Fuhrman dismissed with a sad laugh and a firm “no.”
But Fuhrman did testify that he was briefly alone just a few feet from the bodies of the two victims, a revelation that could help the defense argue that the detective had an opportunity to pocket a glove from the crime scene and take it with him to Simpson’s estate. Defense attorneys have said Fuhrman may have planted that glove, but they have not presented evidence to support the theory.
On Monday, Fuhrman matter-of-factly described finding the glove behind the guest quarters at Simpson’s home. With Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark posing the questions, Fuhrman said he had walked around the house to investigate noises reported to him by Simpson house guest Brian (Kato) Kaelin and found the glove lying on a leaf-covered walkway.
Fuhrman gave that account in even, unemotional tones, far less dramatic than his description during last summer’s preliminary hearing. During that session, he said “my heart started pounding” as he spied the glove and weighed the potential significance of his discovery. Monday, the account was stripped of virtually all emotion, and Fuhrman professed that he could not conclude whether the glove was significant at first look.
In his testimony Monday, Fuhrman also deflated a tantalizing notion offered by prosecutors as court ended last week. Under questioning from Clark on Friday, Fuhrman displayed a shovel and large plastic bag found inside Simpson’s car--suggesting that the defendant had intended to use those items in connection with the murders, either to bury a body or to dispose of bloody clothes and a knife.
They never linked those items to the crimes in front of the jury. On Monday, Fuhrman acknowledged that he had learned over the weekend that the bag was standard equipment in a Ford Bronco. It is used to hold the spare tire.
“So that after nine months of investigation, you discovered on Saturday that this important piece of evidence was perfectly innocuous, is that right?” Bailey asked Fuhrman near the beginning of his cross-examination.
Judge Lance A. Ito sustained an objection to that question, and Bailey seemed to rein himself in, toning down his voice as he launched back into his widely anticipated cross-examination. Still, Fuhrman appeared nervous, sipping from a cup of water as Bailey began to pepper him with questions.
Bailey moved quickly to Fuhrman’s educational credentials, eliciting the detective’s diffident acknowledgment that he did not finish high school, although he later gained an equivalency degree and earned some college credits.
That line of questioning seemed to deepen Fuhrman’s discomfort, but Bailey did not attack Fuhrman with the vigor that he used in his much-criticized cross-examination of an LAPD sergeant earlier in the trial. Where that questioning had been histrionic and occasionally bombastic, Monday’s was more measured and varied, moving from sharp confrontations to gentle inquiries and back again.
After Fuhrman would answer, Bailey would often mutter agreement under his breath, then move quickly to the next question.
As he did last week, Fuhrman appeared to grow more comfortable as the questioning went on, laughing at himself when he inadvertently made a pun out of the name of Kathleen Bell, a real estate agent who has accused him of making racist comments. Just before the lunch break, Bailey was firing questions at the detective on the issue of whether he had ever met Bell or anyone connected to her.
“Ever had any contact with any relative or possible relative of Kathleen Bell in your capacity as a policeman?” Bailey asked, seeking to establish that Bell has no reason to make up a story about Fuhrman.
“I would have no way of knowing that,” the detective responded. “The name Bell does not ring a . . . “
With that, Fuhrman paused, then burst into nervous laughter as others joined in. Bailey also smiled.
The issue of Fuhrman’s contact with Bell is at the center of the defense attack on the detective’s credibility. Last week, Fuhrman told jurors that he had never met her--a claim that Bailey said outside court the detective would come to regret.
Nevertheless, Fuhrman stuck by that account Monday even as Bailey began to bear down, confronting the detective with the names of witnesses that the defense alleges will support Bell’s contention that she met Fuhrman in 1985 at a Marine Corps recruiting station in Redondo Beach.
Bell has said in interviews, in a letter to Simpson lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and in a sworn declaration that Fuhrman made racist comments to her in 1985 or 1986 and that he vowed he would plant evidence if it would implicate members of an interracial couple.
On the witness stand Monday, Fuhrman acknowledged that a woman he can no longer describe did enter the station while he was there, but he emphatically denied meeting Bell or making racist remarks to her. He reiterated that denial even after Bailey suggested that a friend of Bell named Andrea Terry may support Bell’s recollection.
“If an Andrea Terry were to testify that she was with you in Hennessey’s Tavern in 1986 with Kathleen Bell and heard remarks such as the one we have seen, you would say that is a fabrication, Detective Fuhrman?” Bailey asked.
“I don’t know why she’d do it,” Fuhrman responded coolly. “But yes, I would.”
“No question about it?” Bailey continued.
“No question about it,” Fuhrman said.
Time and again, Bailey returned to the question of whether Fuhrman ever made racially inflammatory comments to Bell, asking the detective whether he could have met her and then forgotten about the encounter.
“I do not recall ever meeting this woman, in the recruiting station or anywhere else,” said Fuhrman, who was shown Bell’s picture and said he watched one of her television appearances in order to determine if he had ever seen her before. “I do not recognize this woman as anyone I have ever met.”
That account is likely to face a stiff challenge from the defense lawyers when it is their turn to present their case.
Terry, a friend of Bell who lives in Utah, is expected to testify that she saw Bell and Fuhrman talking in a bar, and a Marine Corps sergeant may also say that he introduced the two of them. Ironically, the sergeant was found by Fuhrman’s lawyer and private investigator, so part of the defense challenge may be based on the detective’s own efforts to defend himself against charges of racism and evidence tampering.
While those witnesses may end up testifying later in the case, legal experts said Fuhrman fared well in his first day of cross-examination.
“I thought Fuhrman did surprisingly well,” said Roy Black, a nationally prominent criminal defense lawyer from Miami. “He really kept an even temper. He didn’t let Bailey get to him. . . . He appeared to be a common-sense kind of guy following his nose.”
Greta Van Susteren, a well-known Washington-based defense lawyer, agreed and said that despite making allegations, the defense had yet to offer any evidence that Fuhrman planted the glove.
“The defense still has to make that connection,” she said. “The problem is we know from Detective Lange that Fuhrman was almost never alone.”
Still, legal experts stressed that Bailey’s cross-examination Monday was only the first blow that the defense has struck against Fuhrman, and they predicted that there is much more to come.
“You didn’t see a great dramatic dismantling of a witness, but you almost never do in real court,” said Los Angeles defense attorney Leslie Abramson. “What you see is Bailey carefully laying the groundwork for an attack on this witness, which will come later.”
Although Fuhrman did not hand the defense any obvious victories Monday, he did reveal during the questioning that he was left alone at the crime scene at least briefly, and Bailey pounced on that testimony.
After describing his initial observations at the crime scene, Fuhrman said he left the house where Nicole Simpson lived and went back outside. By that time, according to the detective, he and his colleagues had been removed from the lead role in the investigation because it was being assigned to the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, which handles complex and high-profile murder cases.
While waiting for the robbery-homicide detectives to arrive and take over, Fuhrman said, he was called to look at a wound to Goldman. Wielding his small flashlight, Fuhrman said, he walked around to look at Goldman’s body through a fence.
Fuhrman said he stopped a few feet away and shone his light on Goldman’s back, spying a relatively small laceration.
“You believe you were alone at that point?” Bailey asked, tucking in his chin and raising his voice.
“Yes,” Fuhrman responded without flinching.
After asking a few more questions, Bailey tried to re-emphasize that point.
“Was anybody accompanying you in any way on that visit?” Bailey asked again.
“No, sir,” Fuhrman said.
During the preliminary hearing, Fuhrman was describing evidence that he spotted near the bodies when he used the word “them” to describe items found near the feet of Goldman. Defense lawyers have said that was a slip and that it revealed that there were two gloves lying there until Fuhrman pocketed one.
Fuhrman has never been asked directly what he meant by that remark, and Bailey confronted him with it for the first time Monday.
“When discussing this event in the preliminary hearing and talking about the glove, your tongue slipped and you said ‘them,’ didn’t you?” Bailey asked.
“Yes,” Fuhrman answered.
“And you’ve examined that in the transcript, haven’t you?” the defense lawyer continued.
“Yes,” Fuhrman said.
“And you know it’s been played on video for the jury, and the word ‘them’ is clear?” Bailey asked.
“Yes,” Fuhrman said again.
“Was that a slip of the tongue?” Bailey then asked, reaching his conclusion.
“No,” Fuhrman answered this time. Bailey dropped the subject without asking Fuhrman to explain what he had meant by the earlier testimony.
In responding to the allegation that Fuhrman might have planted the glove, prosecutors have advanced a number of counter-arguments. In addition to denying the allegations of racism leveled against the detective, the government lawyers have attempted to show that other officers were on the murder scene first and none of them saw a second glove; they have tried to establish that Fuhrman was rarely left by himself; and they have sought to demonstrate that Fuhrman could not have hidden such a glove from his colleagues because he was not wearing a jacket for much of that night.
Clark sought Monday to eliminate the idea in yet another way: by eliciting Fuhrman’s testimony that he did not know Simpson’s whereabouts at the time he found the glove.
Other detectives were talking to Simpson over the phone, but Fuhrman said that when he found the glove behind Simpson’s house, he did not know where the defendant was or where he had been the night before. If true, that would have made planting it extremely risky because Simpson might have produced an airtight alibi--which in turn might have led the investigation to focus on who was trying to frame the football star for the murders.
Both sides in the Simpson case have wrestled with how to handle Fuhrman’s testimony, which forms the backbone of the defense’s allegation that police mishandled or manufactured evidence in order to build the case against Simpson.
On Monday, the defense tried to persuade Ito to reconsider an earlier ruling prohibiting Simpson’s lawyers from questioning the detective about a police pension case in which Fuhrman allegedly told a doctor that he harbored racist views. Another doctor concluded that Fuhrman was lying in order to secure a pension.
Bailey said Fuhrman’s professed racism shed light on his handling of the Simpson case and, as he has before, he emphasized that it was Fuhrman himself who filed the pension case that included the exchange of allegations.
“If it is embarrassing,” Bailey said outside the presence of the jury, “it is an embarrassment of his own creation.”
Ito had previously ruled that the pension case was irrelevant to the Simpson investigation, but Bailey asked the judge to reconsider, arguing that prosecutors had opened the door to that line of questioning by asking Fuhrman about Bell’s allegations against him.
Clark called Bailey’s argument weird and illogical and said prosecutors had done nothing to change Ito’s earlier ruling. Sitting on the bench with the television cameras rolling, Ito paused for several minutes, allowing the suspense to build while he considered the two sides’ positions and reread the defense motion for him to reconsider.
Finally, Ito announced that his previous ruling would stand, and he directed Bailey to begin his cross-examination.
In other business Monday, defense lawyers asked Ito to reconsider his sanctions against them for failing to turn over to the prosecution a tape recording of an interview with a defense witness. Ito fined two of the lawyers $950 each and drafted an admonition to read to the jury if the defense attempts to use the videotaped testimony of Rosa Lopez, a Salvadoran housekeeper who the defense says bolsters Simpson’s alibi.
Ito did not rule on that motion.
Testimony in the Simpson case is scheduled to resume this morning with Fuhrman back on the stand, facing more questions from Bailey.
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